Review: PROMETHEUS, the Maddening Beauty

Jim Tudor, Contributor
PROMETHEUS is one of the most maddeningly exhilarating moviegoing experiences in years. Exquisitely, beautifully shot in amazing 3D, this could be the Ridley Scott film of the last decade, fulfilling the promise of "Ridley Scott, World's Greatest Shooter". Too bad he's forgotten how to parlay that realized promise into absorbing storytelling. These days, Scott is nothing less than his own greatest enemy when it comes to this - simply witness everything he's made since GLADIATOR (itself inflated in our collective memory). For this reason - or in part, at least - I never experienced any tinge of fanboy excitement about the notion of this apparent ALIEN prequel.
Another part of the apathy maybe stems from reading Scott's comments from a few years ago regarding why he was compelled, after all these years, to revisit what has now become a spotty yet consistently popular franchise. In 2010, well before PROMETHEUS was marketed into being Not An ALIEN Prequel, Scott talked to the Los Angeles Times about his nagging need to finally, FINALLY tell the story of that poor dead nine foot tall "space jockey" who was seen seated in that weird canon in the original ALIEN. Scott told the reporter, "No one ever asked that question: What's the story there? I was always surprised that people didn't ask that one. Now we're going to answer that question."

Really? We've waited thirty-plus years for Scott to get back to the Alien world... for that?!? Really? {Yawn.}

But, back to the present day. Having finally seen PROMETHEUS, it turns out that the story of the big dead guy seated in canon is not an altogether dismissible one; it's merely a tragically muddled one. (I'm still not sure how he finally actually ended up in the canon.) For the immaculate first half, I was in awe. As a raw cinematic, visual experience, this was not to be topped. Scott was finally back in the saddle! Michael Fassbender delivers a spot-on performance as David, the artificial human with shadowy motives. Noomi Rapace makes due with what she's given as the lead character, a deceptively one-dimensional explorer out to literally meet her maker. Charlize Theron, who is now starring as a scenery-chewing she-villain in one movie per week (last week it was SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Dare we ask what next week holds?) plays one of the single most intentionally despicable characters I've witnessed in a while. But as it should be, it's H.R. Giger, the famous artist and designer of the gothic unsettling (who's nightmarish work on the original ALIEN is unmatched), steals the show.

PROMETHEUS seems to set out to be the Ultimate Horror Movie, giving a scary answer to a Very Big Question. Unfortunately, it's when the horror kicks in that the movie more or less unravels. There are isolated moments of pure horror, pure dread, as well as some downright kinetic moments that you feel. Scott's unflinching depiction of the film's obligatory reproductive body horror is an accomplishment, particularly noteworthy for how, perhaps for the first time in the franchise's history, it skews to female fears rather than male. (PROMETHEUS goes as far to actualize this shift when during a key moment, a central device in the sequence initially defaults to male use rather than female.) I just wish I came away understanding what happened in the movie, and why. And I don't mean that in a good, I-need-to-see-that-again kind of way.

PROMETHEUS will, and should, prove irresistible to a great many. To them, I would make the rare recommendation of seeing it in 3D (I can't imagine the film otherwise), and also lower any soaring expectations. Remember, this is the hyper-sleeping Ridley Scott of today (ROBIN HOOD, AMERICAN GANGSTER, A GOOD YEAR), many light years from the soaring Scott of ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, and even GLADIATOR. PROMETHEUS stands as his most noteworthy, in some ways most absolute work of this time, the twilight of his career. It truly is a maddening conundrum of intense persistent beauty, forcible effective horror, and anti-logic storytelling.

- Jim Tudor
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  • M12000

    This film was such a disappointment. Nothing in the whole film made sense for me. What group of scientists goes to a foreign planet, within 20 minutes starts taking off their helmets and touching everything they see! And whats up with the random crab-zombie guy?! So many holes the list go on forever... too bad because visually it was flawless.

  • rand_hobart

    "No one ever asked that question: What's the story there?"

    Maybe nobody asked because they weren't interested.

  • Kurt Halfyard

    Overall, I liked the film there is too much in here to love in the visual department. The real issues (and this one always plagued Lindelof in LOST) is that the characters never reach beyond the status of puppets into the realm of 'human beings.' They are in service of the story, instead of the other way around. Much like J.J. Abrams, these new Sci-Fi geeks are more interested in moving things along to the next act of 'coolness' or 'badass' to stop and consider the humanity in the equation. That is the cardinal fault of PROMETHEUS, that it's all about searching for God at the expense of examining what is human...

  • Milos

    Couldn't agree more.

    So many silly characters all dancing to the tune of the story.

    To paraphrase one of my dear friends.

    "Thanks Ridley, the suplexes were satisfying answers to those big questions"

  • MarsHottentot

    HA!

  • blauereiter

    Thanks for the review Jim.

    I think even a "flawed" Ridley Scott film would make for a richer viewing experience than most movies out there these days.

    I certainly enjoyed the film and look forward to watching it again, especially for the great cinematography and production design.

    In some ways I feel the greatness of MIchael Fassbender's (David) and Guy Pearce's (Peter Weyland) characters weren't fully realized due to their limited screen time, but I guess that's hard to remedy/balance with an ensemble cast and so much going on in the story.

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