Here’s how our Dueling Reviews format works: each contributor writes an independent, abbreviated, spoiler-free review of the film. Then, the contributors come together in a podcast and discuss the movie in depth.
I will perhaps be deemed a heretic for what I am about to say, but here it is: I am not a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s science fiction films. To be sure, Blade Runner and Alien are massive achievements in the genre, and I have the utmost respect for the name he made for himself in the industry with those movies. They are technically magnificent, with solid stories and intriguing premises. It is the emotional distance that his protagonists (e.g. Deckard and Ridley) seem to have from the audience that keeps me at bay. In truth, my own favorite Scott film remains to this day the funny, off-beat conman film Matchstick Men – Roy, Frank, and Angela all are such personable characters with clear emotions that I find them far more relatable, and the film therefore more watchable.
With this in mind, while I came into Prometheus expecting nothing short of technical perfection, I also was not expecting to enjoy myself. Much to my surprise, I really liked the ride Scott takes the audience on from the very opening scene. Immaculately toned, perfectly cast, and sprinkled with some morbid, light humor, Prometheus is a return to form for the director and a real representation of what science fiction has the potential to still be in this era of tired plots and overused CGI. If nothing else, I appreciate the existence of Prometheus and I hope it can inspire many more filmmakers to follow in Scott’s footsteps once again.
The film does stumble, particularly as it enters its final act. Poor pacing rears its ugly face again, and the climax suffers for it as too many pauses in the action stifle the onscreen spectacle. Still, this is a relatively minor issue. What really irked me about the film was instead its wasted potential. The foundational story for Weyland’s mission is fascinating; unfortunately, Scott seemed so dead-set on returning to the tone of Alien that he forces horror elements into the film and works around them, instead of fleshing out his initial plot thread. And to be honest, the scares work – I was squirming in my seat at some of the more, shall we say, intimate time we get with the extraterrestrial lifeforms. Still, I would have preferred Scott really take his premise of the origin of humanity and run with it; after the first half of the film, he seems to surrender that idea for a sequel and sticks to old-fashioned thrill sequences instead. It’s far from debilitating, but it is disappointing nonetheless.
The Prometheus of greek mythology stole fire from the gods and gave it to his own creation, humanity. Similarly, it is implied that the alien “Engineers” of Ridley Scott’s newest film helped create Earth’s primitive civilizations. The questions that the crew of the spaceship Prometheus wish to ask of the Engineers are the same questions we would have asked of the Greek titan: Why? Why did you create us? Why are we special? Your enjoyment of this film may depend on how badly you need there to be an answer to these questions. And if there is any certain moral that can be gleaned from Prometheus, it’s that you should be careful what you wish for.
That’s not to say Prometheus is only existential pondering with no resolution. Ridley Scott has crafted one of the most visually arresting and all-around intense experiences I’ve had at the movies in some time. It left me shaking. The film’s status as a distant prequel to Alien is well-deserved; a certain scene halfway through the film will go down as one of the most bodily horrifying scenes since the original chestburster. However, the film’s horror and tension are balanced by gorgeous vistas of space, as well as the scenery and architecture of the alien planet. Scott’s use of 3D surpasses even James Cameron’s Avatar, immersing you even further into his sci-fi vision.
The characters of Prometheus are wonderfully three-dimensional as well. The possibility of meeting their maker means something different to each Prometheus crew member, and the film does not sacrifice their personal development in favor of scares or visuals. Among the actors, the two standouts are Noomi Rapace as Elisabeth Shaw, and Michael Fassbender as the android David. Rapace brings to Shaw vulnerability without weakness, creating a female character as solid as Ripley without being a clone. Likewise, opinion will not be divided on Fassbender, who becomes a character as earnest as he is dangerous.
What will divide opinion on Prometheus is that it does not hold any answers. No one finds out why humanity exists or the agenda of the Engineers. This lack of resolution is understandably frustrating. However, science fiction’s greatest strength has always been the ability to use the fantastic to comment upon our own world, outside of the theater. Perhaps what Prometheus is trying to say is that the Answer to life, the universe, and everything cannot be found; it can only be sought, and therein lies the beauty. As with the film itself, the meaning is in the journey – not in the destination.
WARNING: Spoilers abound in the podcast, so wait until after the film if you’d like some things to remain a surprise.
You can either download the podcast here, or listen to the review online:
Søren’s Verdict: Movie Win
Ari’s Verdict: Movie Win