Prometheus (Scott, 2012) – My Review

These are my initial impressions fresh from watching Prometheus. It’s not the kind of review I normally do – but since I can’t remember when last I saw a film on it’s opening night, I thought I’d join the conversation.

From my quick scan of the reactions on twitter, it’s clear that many people are disappointed and confused by the film. The disappointment is perhaps easier to understand than the confusion, because although it contained one or two (terribly annoying) narrative implausibilities, the overall plot was not at all hard to follow. In fact, it is stock-in-trade genre fair:

  • a scientific expedition into deep space;
  • a raggle-taggle crew of eccentric but brilliant specialists with conflicting personalities, sexual tensions and hidden agendas;
  • danger and surprises lurking within labyrinthian locations; and,
  • a fight for survival.
  • There are also the familiar themes from the Alien trilogy: the blurred boundary between the grotesque and the beautiful; the human, humanoid and monster; the inability of science and enterprise fully to control and master the brute forces of nature. All of these are well-handled in the script and direction. So at a thematic level at least the charge that it doesn’t make sense doesn’t quite stack up.

    While I can see that some people may have questions about the motivations in the overarching backstory, I felt all of that exposition was adequately dealt with and set up the sequels quite nicely. While I wouldn’t necessarily engage in this type of commercialism myself, I didn’t feel that it compromised the story as a standalone piece; nor did I feel in any way cheated.

    And I think the main reason for this is the technical brilliance of the film. It’s hard not to admire the splendour of the production design, visual effects and CGI in the film. They’re so good they make the case against 3D even stronger for me. Scott uses 3D mostly to create depth. The subtler uses of this – for instance, to fill out the spaces in and around the expedition’s helmets – are well done. Strangely I also admired the audacity Scott showed in seemingly dimensionalising the clip from Lawrence of Arabia. However, the more obvious uses of 3D – especially when stereoscopy is used to create the illusion of shallow depth of field – brutally exposes it’s shortcomings and only comes off as bad rear projection. Perhaps this is what rear projection felt like when it was first used: clunky, inauthentic and gimmicky. Certainly this is the way I feel about 3D at the moment. Even in the hands of someone with the visual flair of Ridley Scott.

    Finally, as far as the cast are concerned, no-one could really touch Michael Fassbender’s performance. Consistently interesting, his vocal characterisation is given depth by his precise movement and physical presence on screen. Idris Elba and Charlize Theron make the most out of what are fairly one dimensional characters on paper. And I was really pleased to see Benedict Wong have a few minutes on screen. He deserves bigger roles. At the moment, I’m not sure what to make of Noomi Rapace in the lead. There was something of an obvious mismatch between her character and her accent, which was itself inconsistent throughout the film. (Why does Dr. Elizabeth Ward, whose father spoke with such a fine American accent, have a non-descript non- English accent.) And although her big scene is very memorable, it was fairly easy to see coming and didn’t entirely convince that the threat was a near certain eventuality. I felt it was also immediately downplayed by the implausible way in which they handled the end of the scene. (I won’t say anymore about it.)

    Much of the disappointment I think stems from the prolonged and extensive online marketing campaign run by the distributors. As the Little White Lies review notes, when you’re watching the trailer of the trailer of the trailer, you know anticipation’s running high. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for them. Too much hype can be a bad thing.

    Overall, I would give Prometheus a 3.5 star rating. It doesn’t bring anything new or original to the Alien trilogy, but it is a good film: entertaining and visually impressive.

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    About Darwin Franks

    Filmmaker, Cinephile, Writer, Athiest, Civil Servant

    3 comments

    1. Ah I’m confused of whether to see it in 3D or not!?

    2. Hi Allison. Thanks for leaving a reply. It’s a tough one. One view might be: see it in 3D because then you’ll be able to know and see for yourself what it’s like, and what they were able to do. But if you take this line, you might as well see all films in 3D. Another line to take is a sort of principled objection. Neither is quite satisfactory. Having seen it in 3D, my own view is that I don’t think it added anything to my experience of the film. There were nice effects. It didn’t have stuff flying out at you from the screen – thank goodness. The waterfall was one which was particularly well done. And there a number of other examples like that – which didn’t call attention to themselves. The bits that did – a stone falling off the edge of a cliff, the holographic displays and tech gadget panels etc., the shallow depth of field – all just reinforced my pre-existing bias against 3D. Maybe someday it will improve, and people will start to incredible things with it. For my money, Hugo was a major improvement. I haven’t yet seen Pina or Cave, but I think it’s inevitable that someone will do something phenomenal with it one day. I agree with Nick James: 3D will probably co exist with 2D like radio and TV and cinema. Different audiences. Different pleasures.

    3. Spot on Darwin. I don’t think the script-writer – ol’ whatsisname – really had the depth for the subject matter that Scott introduced in Alien. And those irritating narrative short-cuts – like the “hard-man” who suddenly freaks out at the sight of a practically fossilised (obviously long dead) alien.

      Where Alien was a dramatic confrontation in a block-buster between the more conservative public and a very strong feminist argument, the themes of this film seemed philosophically fairly vacuous. Panspermia. This, “how does one reconcile science and faith” is simply rehashed in the tired old fashion which ends up predictably anti-science.

      I thought the 3D was done as well as I’ve seen it. I didn’t notice the 3D to simulate shallow depth of field. Interesting when 3D should take away the need for the DOF illusion of depth.

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