Destination: Paradise. Arrival: Ridley Scott’s purgatory.
WARNING: This review may contain spoilers.
Here are a few things to do before watching Prometheus:
1. Watch Alien, Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi epic that launched his career. But just Alien.
2. Forget Alien.
3. Free your mind.
Because Scott opens his film with a scene that would give Charles Darwin, had he been able to watch, reason to have strong words with writers Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof (Lost) for even thinking of ruining his theories. A man with chalk-white complexion – not exactly human, but entirely humanoid – took a sip of a mysterious dark liquid. Then he fell and his cells disintegrated… and most probably created life on Earth.
Then he moves his movie to 2080, where we are introduced to Elizabeth Shaw, a religious scientist that Swedish actress Noomi Rapace plays. She and her lover, Logan Marshall-Green’s Charlie Holloway, have apparently found evidence that the aforementioned being, whom these scientists then referred to as ‘the Engineers’ are none other than our makers. Shaw, Holloway and a number of crew then shipped themselves off in Weyland Corp.’s research vessel Prometheus to a distant planet in a distant solar system that cost them two years of hypersleep to reach to seek the truth of their claim. And because this is a Ridley Scott movie, what ensues is a tale straight out of a Lovecraft-induced nightmare that will shake you no matter how firmly you are holding on to the edge of your seat.
Gods and monsters
If Alien is a claustrophobic space thriller and its sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens, is futuristic military action-cum-human interest drama, Prometheus is a theology-based science fiction. Even the cinematography that Scott uses for this film tells a different story than Alien’s. Whereas Alien took place in narrow spaces, dark chambers and was bursting with tension, in Prometheus Scott took us on a journey with wider scopes, sweeping vistas of nature that would make National Geographic envious and a scale that would put even Gladiator’s majesty to shame. And whereas Alien was mostly, if not solely, a story told through Ellen Ripley’s vision, Prometheus gives you a multi-faceted view from several points of views.
One of those P.O.Vs belongs to David 8, an android played by Michael Fassbender. His existence is disturbing – how can he be allowed to care for human when even his own creator calls him soulless? Is his childish act genuine or a cover for his dangerously manipulative side? Is he a puppet on strings or is he advanced enough to make his own decisions? Fassbender took these ideas and went to town with them, executing a performance that is subtle, nuance and incredibly complex. Played with so much aplomb that we can hardly remember that he’s a living, breathing human actor, there is no doubt he stole the show from the rest of the cast.
Definitely no Ash or Bishop that one, and the glaring differences between the old and the new could be understood. After more than two decades, surely Scott has evolved as a filmmaker. His materials have grown progressively more mature and, in many ways, more spiritual. But this doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to spike our adrenaline or left behind the intensity and spectacle that are the trademarks of his best works (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down). Here, Scott even still remembers to fulfill the requirements of a monster movie by unleashing unholy creatures that leave us screaming… not necessarily for more. Whether it’s the snake-like aliens that penetrate their victims, bubbling, seemingly sentient black liquids that turn humans to monsters or a Cthulhu-esque creature, he drops them all – disgusting and terrifying.
Sure, there are plot holes, but they are minor when you think about the theological issue at the base of Shaw & Co.’s adventure. That people would complain about how Prometheus fails to answer the questions left behind by Alien comes as no surprise either – after all, it hasn’t even answered its own questions. But at least Shaw’s curiosity has been appeased as she steps into a big room where the Engineers’ secret is partially uncovered. After that, it’s as if Scott is telling us to develop our own theories, making Prometheus the most stimulating movie in recent memory.
Girl on fire
Choose Rapace as Prometheus’ heroine is also a genius move on Scott’s part. Even though she gets nicknamed ‘Ellie’, she’s no Ellen. When we first met Ellen, she was already a readymade soldier. Ellie Shaw, on the other hand, is a character that developed more profoundly. Scott gave Rapace plenty to sink her teeth in – she is most mesmerizing when she’s lying down in a frantic state of mind in a medical capsule, operating on herself. We bet, in a few years, her terror-filled face will be as iconic as Ripley’s expressions.
Prometheus is a movie with a stunning ensemble cast, though. Some characters are stretched thin but Charlize Theron’s cold Vickers and Idris Elba’s charismatic Janek stand out enough to balance out Rapace and Fassbender’s domination. So even if you find the story lacking, the A-listers will exceed expectations on the regular summer blockbuster’s acting standard.
With all this, plus the stunning use of visual and special effects, Scott has rendered Prometheus the most beautiful, the most profound science fiction films, post-2000. It comes close to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the way it brings more than just monsters and mayhem and opens up a world of philosophical ponderings to the table. Several years from now, we will look back on Prometheus and say, “What a legend!”
Not for everyone and extremely divisive in many ways, Prometheus is a cerebral suspense movie made with a masterful direction. One word: EPIC.
Ponder this: Ripley & Co. from Nostromo met those nasty facehuggers in LV-426. Shaw, David and the Prometheus crew landed in LV-223. Wait. SO…
The Indonesian version of this review will appear in Total Film Indonesia Issue #32, out in June 2012.