RIDLEY SCOTT’S “PROMETHEUS” IS A SUPERB SCIENCE FICTION PHENOMENON
Director Ridley Scott’s epic return to the Alien universe is an explosive triumph that might actually surpass its four predecessors. Trust me, I don’t say that lightly, but what we have here is something quite brilliant to behold. “Prometheus” is about as pure a science fiction film as they get – one that will terrify you one minute and make you really ponder life the next. It takes quite a movie to pull that off.
Now this is one of those great films where you should be going in blind outside of the trailers. Basically, a group consisting of a couple scientists (the leader played by Noomi Rapace), an android (chillingly portrayed by the indelible Michael Fassbender), a captain (Idris Elba), and a corporate overseer (Charlize Theron) all embark on a deep-space exposition to find the “Engineers” of life as we know it. But when they get to where our creators should be, they don’t quite find big welcoming arms of the gods awaiting them.
For me, this is a masterpiece on every level – from visuals to acting to pacing to story. The outstanding character-driven script written by “Lost” alum Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts is perfectly complimented by Ridley Scott’s obvious love for the genre and the broad source material. Where “Alien” was a great haunted-house-in-space film, “Prometheus” is a philosophical dive into an extraterrestrial nightmare.
The layers of this behemoth are glorious. I’m all for great philosophical debates, and you won’t find a better cinematic version of the debate between creationism vs. nihilism. The questions this film ponders aren’t simple ones that the film can just explain away when the time is right. There is a real depth here – and that’s why I don’t mind that everything isn’t answered. Because there is no definitive answer. I adored that element of the film and it made me realize this is what most science fiction films lack.
Outside of “Black Swan” and “Inception,” I can’t remember the last time I was so completely immersed in a theater. So many great scenes, with the greatest being a moment of true transcendent terror which I will only refer to as ‘The Emergency Surgery Scene.’ Man, I could barely look at the screen. I just love how easily “Prometheus” was able to maneuver between the type of horror worthy of nightmares and the kind of philosophy worthy of Plato without losing sight of its great wealth of characters.
This movie works as well as it does because of its great characters and their unnatural depth considering their genre. Usually, the science fiction genre suffers from too much concept and not enough characterization. They simply can’t fit it all in and prefer to cram in more of the plot than realism in their characters. “Prometheus,” on the other hand, is the ultra-rare character-driven science fiction film. Everything that occurs to these characters doesn’t occur because the plot demands it, but because the characters and their unique characterizations push them to act and react in a certain way. They remain true to what makes them interesting.
Michael Fassbender’s role as the android David is perhaps his most fascinating work outside of “Shame,” and that is primarily because David is the best-written and most compellingly character of “Prometheus.” Fassbender took this challenging character and brought it into a whole new realm of possibility. This was a striking performance full of the same practiced nuance that won Gary Oldman an Oscar nomination last year. Everything, from his oddly eerie glare when someone says he’s emotionless to his subtle mechanical movement, is flawless. As for everyone else, all are remarkable. Rapace is an incredible leading lady and has both the action and the emotional chops to pull it all off. We easily see that her role in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” didn’t do her justice. I also really enjoyed Idris Elba as the captain, as he’s probably the most likable character in the film.
There isn’t a single boring or shallow moment to be found during the film’s 124 minute runtime – which in itself is a pretty noteworthy achievement. I could barely believe it. I love science fiction but even I tend to look at my watch when the technical stuff starts being mentioned. Good for exposition, bad for audiences, right? Not always. I didn’t look at my watch once. The script is so concise and pitch-perfect that we always get the information we need without it feeling like forced exposition.
What impressed me most is just how limber Scott proved to be in bringing a real sense of compelling intensity to pretty much every scene. I couldn’t get enough of how this could be utterly beautiful and horrifically intense, all executed with equal skill. How many directors could turn a philosophical meaning-of-everything discussion between a human and an android into a glued-to-your-seat cat-and-mouse chess game? How many directors could take the overdone what’s-that-in-the-shadows trope and turn it into something terrifying? I admit right here and now that I underestimated Ridley Scott.
While I can’t say I’ve been in love with anything he’s directed in the last decade, his work in science fiction has always been a work of art. But as great as “Alien” and “Blade Runner” are, neither achieved the same imaginative and thought-provoking heights of “Prometheus.”
Ultimately, “Prometheus” surpasses its Alien predecessors and even “Avatar” as a science fiction masterpiece. From its searing characters to its staunch philosophical debate to its absolutely breathtaking visual effects, all of its little portions add up to something original, wholly entertaining, and destined to go down as a science fiction classic.